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Sochi Olympic Curling – Mid Way Views

2014 February 15
by WayneGarman

With about two thirds of the round robin games now complete in Sochi, the Olympic curling tournament has had some surprises.  On the men’s side, the performance of the Chinese team has been impressive.  They are currently tied with Sweden at the top with a 6 win, 1 loss record.   This was not expected, and their shot percentage is a very solid 85%.  The performance of the Canadian rink has also been a surprise, with a slow start, losing two of their first three games.  However, they have since caught fire, winning their next 4 straight games.

On the women’s side, Jennifer Jones’ Canadian rink is undefeated through 7 games.  The rest of the field has been quite competitive.  My choice for the surprising women’s rink has been Great Britain.  I expected them to be more dominant, but they are now in a close fight for a playoff spot with three losses.   Their skip, Eve Muirhead, the defending world champion, has had games where her shot making has looked very ordinary.  At times, she has seemed flustered, unable to decide on the best shot to call.

The major disappointment has to be the poor performance of both American rinks.  Erika Brown’s team has only 1 win, and sits at the bottom of the standings.  John Shuster’s rink has 2 wins so far, and still has a mathematical chance of making the playoffs but can probably only play the role of a spoiler.

It is hard to identify the exact cause.  The major problem has been low shot making percentages.  At this level of competition, a rink needs to average well above 80% to be a playoff contender.   Both rinks started slow, with 50% shots in some games.  Lately, both rinks have had better games, and their shooting percentages have increased into the 70s.

Unfortunately, one of the memorable events of the past week was when the US women’s team gave up a 7 ender to Great Britain.  As I watched the end develop, I question how they let the end get away.   Great Britain had some breaks, as every one of their takeouts seemed to roll behind three American rocks in front of the house.

When an end starts going bad, at some point, you have to decide when to bail out and start to take out your opponent’s rocks.  A couple of key misses, and then Erika Brown’s decision to attempt draw shots all add to the problem.  My strategy would have been, with 3 US rocks close to the house, to call run back takeouts.  Even if they did not take out the Scottish rocks, it would have removed the cover from the house.  As some of you may have heard, this was the first 7 ender in Olympic curling history.

The poor performance does not bode well for funding for Olympic Curling in the US.  After the 2010 Olympics, curling was noted as a sport to reduce funding from the US Olympic Committee.  Given this year’s outcomes, there will be lots of soul searching within the US Curling Association.   It is ironic that while the growth of curling has been dramatic at the local clubs, the US is far less competitive at the international level.

On a brighter note, the Norway rink’s bright curling pants have been a big fashion hit again this Olympics.  Their new designs have been very creative.  The Russian men appear to be following along with the pink colored paisley pants with white belts.

I have been impressed with the wide variety of television camera angles for the games.  There are fixed cameras behind each sheet, overhead house cameras, and mobile cameras along the sides of the sheets.  There is also a camera on a boom that provides some fascinating above sheet views.  The perspective helps to being out the line of the shots and how straight these curlers slide toward the broom.

I have not seen this yet on NBC television, but the CBC ( Canada ) coverage has shown a graphic that marks the path of a draw shot.  It looks to use the same technology as the first down line in football games.   When the paths of two draw shots are compared, it provides a fascinating view of how the draws compared.  I hope this becomes a staple of curling coverage.

Overall, I have been impressed with the curling coverage provided by NBC.  Every US game, as well as some other games have been televised.  However, the color commentators need some work.

Both studio and on ice color people have been very bland, with very few insights.  They need to tell the audience what happened, and tell us if the ice was wrong or if the shooter missed the broom.  By continuing to say the rock “over curled” tells us little as to the cause of a missed shot.

Part of the problem may be that NBC has people who are friends or teammates of the players, and are reluctant to appear critical.  They need color commentators who are well spoken and not afraid to voice an opinion.  Pete Fenson has extensive Olympic curling experience, but he is not a broadcaster.

Overall, it has been an exciting Olympic curling experience so far, and the playoffs should feature some excellent games.  The semi-finals are on Feb. 19, with the women medal games on Feb. 20, and the men’s medal games on Feb. 21.

My predictions:

  • Women:  Canada versus Sweden, with Canada taking the Gold
  • Men: Sweden versus Canada, with Sweden winning the gold medal.